Monday, March 30, 2009

dialogue in the guest-house

i woke up this morning still filled with the image of a guest-house from Rumi's poem (see yesterday's post). bleary-eyed, i picked up my early-morning-diary (and yes, that is an actual existing concept), but instead of the usual litany ("didn't sleep well, feel tired, Antoine nursed all night, what shall we do today? blah blah blah"), i found myself writing: "so, who's come to visit today?". the answer appeared on the page, as if by magic: "Apathy, Tiredness, Tension and Depression". as i moved my pen to resume the litany ("see, i knew it, my life sucks, look at that, what a list, what's wrong with me anyway? blah blah blah"), i stopped in my tracks. remembered the poem. and with much effort, wrote: "Welcome!". the following dialogue ensued:

me: Welcome! Come in, can i get you something to eat? to drink?

them: no thanks, we're fine.

me: so, they say you all come bearing gifts, is that true?

them: yep.

me: and what did you bring me?

Apathy: actually, i am here to carry some of your pain for you for a while, so that you can rest a bit.

me: really???????

Apathy: yes. in principle, of course, you should carry the pain yourself, but sometimes it gets to be a bit much, and then i come around for a while and do some of the carrying for you.

me: wow! that's nice... thank you. What about you, Tiredness?

Tiredness: oh, my job is simple, i am here to get you to sit down. it's pretty simple, whenever you feel my presence, just sit down. simple. just. sit. down.

me: oh, but... there is so much i have to do, and so much i want to do, and if i am tired, i can't, and ...

Tiredness: well, that's it, isn't it? so the gift is pretty simple, really: just. sit. down. if you didn't have me, you never would, you know, sit down.

me: you're right, you're absolutely right, that is exactly what i need, i need somebody to walk around with me all day, reminding me to occasionally sit down. i really do need that. thank you!

Tiredness (in a weary voice): you're welcome.

Tension: so, are you going to ask about my gift? no? i'll tell you anyway: i'm here to warn you when you overreach yourself, trying so hard to be something that you are not, because you just keep forgetting that you are fine just the way you are. and so i try to remind you that there is no need to pretend, no need to try so hard.

me: that is so important, now i think of it. thank you!

i turned to Depression, just on time to see him backing out of the door. "i think i'll come back some other time", he mumbled, "this just isn't my day..."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be cleaning you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

why is this so hard to live by? why wring my hands in despair, whenever despair appears? why be angry at anger? or saddened by sadness's smile? why try to reason unreasonableness away? why rush to fix that which has yet to be broken? why is the weather inside so much harder to live with, than the weather outside? and the bird in the tree said: twee twee twee twee twee twee twee twee...

Friday, March 27, 2009

spilled milk

theoretically, the down side of only shopping for groceries once a week is that you end up either missing something and/or having way too much of something else. of course, in real life, these are rich sources of creative possibility. for instance, there was the miracle that ocurred the time i didn't have any regular chocolate to make brownies from (having woken up with one thought only on my lips and hands: MUST MAKE BROWNIES NOW!) and ended up using my secret stash of G&B Mint with amazing results (i know at least two grown women who still sigh deeply at the mere thought).
more recently, two full packs of whole milk, almost over their date, were found lurking at the back of the fridge. having pestered my usual founts of wisdom (thanks again, Pauline), and carried out some serious field-work, here is what you can do with a whole pack of milk almost over its date:
- custard (or the local version, vla)
- loads of béchamel sauce
- your very own ricotta cheese (i made cheese, i made cheese, i actually MADE CHEESE!!!!!!!)
(Miracle Brownies Recipe
- 100 gr. G&B Mint (or any 70%+ chocolate with a mint flavor)
- 100 gr. softened butter
- 250 gr. sugar (or equivalent in whatever sweetener you like)
- 1 dl. milk
- 3 eggs
- 125 gr. flour
- 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
- vanilla (to taste)
- pinch of salt
- 100 gr. of whatever nuts you like, chopped
preheat oven to 180 degrees; melt chocolate au bain marie; in large bowl, mix butter with sugar (or whatever else you're using), add chocolate plus all other ingredients (nuts last), pour into baking tray lined with baking paper. bake from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven (knife should come out clean)
try to not eat them all before they have time to cool down. try to share with other members of household. try to not tell EVERYONE you know about them. try to forgive yourself if you fail in any and/or all of the above)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

of mice and men

just imagine: i was sitting on a train last week, by myself, reading The Joy of Burnout, by Dina Glouberman (which incidentally really is the best book on the subject), and there are all these visualisation/meditation exercises in there, aimed at getting one in touch with one's inner process and stuff, and just as the train pulls into the station, i'm reading about this exercise where you sit and meditate until an image appears in your mind that symbolises your particular burnout, and then you can take some time to explore that image and what it means to you,

so i'm getting off the train, and the sun is shining warm on my face, and i'm all the way at the end of the platform where nobody ever comes, except, well, the trains, and i'm thinking what the heck, no time like the present, so i plonk myself down right there on the platform in the sunshine, i close my eyes, and i wait. and almost immediately, in a flash, i see running across the inner screen of my mind, a mouse. you know, the regular little brown/grey kind. and it's no more than a flash, really, because quicker than you can say jiffy, the bit of my brain that gets to do most of the talking most of the time intervenes: a mouse, what do you mean a mouse?? don't be ridiculous! clearly, that's not our image! just concentrate, will you!

so i sit some more, and concentrate, and for what feels like an eternity, nothing happens. until eventually, slowly and painfully, something sort of vaguely emerges. Ah! Sisyphus. now we're talking! now that is a real image! condemned by the gods, a man is struggling to roll a huge rock up a hill, and just as he gets to the top, the rock rolls down. man climbs down the hill, hoists rock up on shoulder. repeat ad infinitum. now this we like. it's dramatic, it's scholarly, it's famous. it's us.

on to the next step: the book says once i have the image i should try to inhabit it, actually feel my way into what it would be like to be that image. right. so here i am, still sitting in the sunshine on my train platform, concentrating really hard to imagine what it would be like to be a bloke with a big rock on my back, but for some reason, and despite my best efforts, all can come up with is what Sean Bean would look like, with a big rock on his (naked) back (because of course, instead of doing the 40-day-no-tv-programme, i've been watching Lady Chatterley on repeat for over a month...) (what can i say, it's spring fever...)... and i'm thinking this is not such a useful exercise after all (although quite enjoyable, what with the sunshine, and Sean...), when suddenly... there is this odd scratching noise, right next to my foot.

(of course, all the time i've been sitting there, trains have been rushing past, making a hell of a racket, but one sort of expects trains to run past train platforms, whereas scratching noises... and so close to one's foot...) Startled, i open my eyes. and guess what? right there, by my foot, looking up at me: A MOUSE. a real, brown/grey MOUSE.

(short break to give sensitive people some time to recover their composure)

i almost jumped out of my skin. obviously. breathed deeply. looked back at the mouse and said in a resigned tone of voice: all right, then, a mouse.

so i sat and watched the mouse until it disappeared below the platform. then i closed my eyes again, and it all came to me in a rush: about how a mouse is so nervy, isn't it, it's so small, and everybody is always out to get it, and it's terrible, really, being a mouse, you never get a break, constantly foraging for food, and looking out for all those threats and dangers. Seriously, have you ever seen a mouse relax? or lounge? or just be bored? of course not, it can't afford to. i mean, mice are pretty low on the food chain, aren't they. oh! and those huge chocolate brown swimming eyes, and those twitching always twitching whiskers, poor poor little mouse... being a mouse is nerve-wrecking, i mean do they ever even sleep? the ones who used to live in my kitchen certainly never did... and how fast does a mouse's heart beat anyway? way too fast, that's how fast.

so yep, that's my burn-out. a mouse. and thank You for the subtle hint.

(is the universe being really literal with you too this month? anybody want to share spooky sign stories?)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


we've been stuck inside for a few days because of an ear infection/bad cold/hoarse voice thing that isabelle developed. the first day was spent lazing about in front of the telly, but by the end of the second day we needed something more to keep the insanity monster at bay. this lovely project appeared just on time. isabelle chose the fabrics, made the drawing, embroidered most of the big flower (leaving the rest to her minions) and sewed the whole thing on my machine (with just a little help). and of course, although she really enjoyed the making, she is much more circumspect about the result than i am. in the midst of my oohs, aahs and spastic photographing, she said: it's a bookmark, mama, let's put it in a book. it's safely tucked in het sleutelkruid now.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


12:00 (as in midnight). my husband, son, daughter and cats are peacefully snoring all around me. i am reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (finally, two years after everybody else, and thank you R. and G. for the fantastic library service). and i get to this point in the story (on p. 15) where she is lying on the bathroom floor of her lovely home, sobbing for the umpteenth night in a row for the imminent demise of her marriage and life-as-she-knows-it, when suddenly, revelation strikes: in the throes of more despair than she can bear, Elizabeth starts talking to god. out loud. she cries: what should i do? what should i do? WHAT SHOULD I DO?...

and god answers. god says "go back to bed!".

12:01. i almost shriek. delight. revelation. hallelujah. after 35 years of sort-of-not-quite-maybe-i hope-do-you-think-that-perhaps faith issues, i have certainty at last: god exists.

how do i know? because every time (many times over the years) that i have come to the edge of the cliff, the point where all seems lost, but most painfully hope, when the dark night of the soul had spread all the way down to the little toes, and flinging my agnosticism/ buddhism/atheism and other suits to the wind, i have cried in despair: what should i do? WHAT SHOULD I DO? someone has answered. and every time this someone has said (in the calm and kind voice that Elizabeth describes on p. 16): "go back to bed!".


12:06. i am standing in the dark kitchen. the cat is rubbing up against my leg in an effort to convince me that the real reason i came downstairs is to give her a snack. my heart is beating too fast and my mind is whirling. "so there really is a god then... and she seems to be strangely obsessed with sleeping... alternatively, maybe i should try talking to her at some other time than in the middle of the night... maybe god is just a 'here and now' kind of girl... but this is amazing, absolutely amazing, i have to tell it to someone. right now. maybe i should wake up marc, would he get mad if i woke him up to tell him there is a god? or should i turn on the computer, e-mail someone about this? there must be someone out there who is still awake and who wants to know about this right now, because it just blows your mind, doesn't it? and it can't be coincidence, it's too big, it's too too big. so what should i do with it? what should i do?????"

12:07. god speaks. "go back to bed!", she says.

Monday, March 16, 2009


last night i watched a phenomenal talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius (you've got to see it, it's so good), and she talks, among other things, about the creative process of Ruth Stone, which apparently involved ready-made poems galloping across the fields and running straight into and through Ruth, at which point she in turn had to run to make it to a pen and paper before the poem galloped on and out of sight. and listening to it, i realized that, crazy mad as it may sound, that's pretty much how my creative process works (the process, mind you, not the result (which fails to even vaguely visit the vicinity of the work of Ruth Stone)).

now with most things creative (writing, sewing, drawing, painting, etc.), i am a slow, hesitant creature whose efforts revolve around the dreaded yet comfortable concept of 'discipline, discipline and more discipline'. but there are some things, specifically poems and little white clay women, which freakishly run at, through and out of me fully formed, and at mind-blowing speed (if, that is, i manage to get to the materials on time). the little white women in particular fascinate me. i never think of them as art or anything, but they come out with great urgency: i sense them before they are there, and then suddenly, have to rush to get to the clay box (yes, sometimes (often) in the middle of the night). the most amazing part of it to me is the speed at which they are realized. and the utter lack of thinking. within two to three minutes from sitting down, it's done. and they always look exactly right. there is no hesitation, not a single false movement, my hands know exactly what to do, and they have to rush to keep up with whatever it is that is working through me (the local creative genius, according to Elizabeth Gilbert and the ancient romans). it's a bit weird.

i call them little 'goddess figures', and prop them up around the house, to do their protective work, like the good-intentioned spirits that they are. the only thing is that i can't get too attached to any of them, because Antoine breaks them with greater gusto and at greater speed than i make them.
(RIP little standing goddess in the kitchen window sill).

Friday, March 13, 2009


it has been said before, here and elsewhere, that we have a fantastic public library in this town. not only does it contain 'almost everything' in many many languages, it also has amazingly deep comfortable armchairs in which one can while away many hour (days) reading magazines or staring at passers-by. my former approach to the library was rather result-oriented (hhmm? really?), as in 'find required book in the online library system', 'get to the library', 'find required book', 'get out'.

nowadays, with more hours to while away, and fewer things to do, i end up strolling in unknown sections, browsing through mysterious shelves. and making wonderful discoveries. such as the series of cups and saucers that Japanese artist Shizuka Yokomizo designed once upon a time for Illy. the titles alone (carrot dog, white wall, book) are worth it. not to mention the artwork.
and then true treasure: Honey from a Weed, by Patricia Grey. a magical book, so infused with warmth, food and deep connection that i cannot handle reading more than a page of it at a time. it tells me all kinds of things i really really want to know, without even the shadow of a chance of ever using the knowledge, such as: the pots and pans one needs to own for a nomadic existence among the mountains of Catalunia. the kind of fire you get with dry fig twigs, as opposed to rosemary twigs, or vine twigs, or citrus branches. and how far one can swim across the bay on the greek island of nexos before the fire under lunch burns down to ashes and one must return to eat it. and the strong anti-depressant effect of pounding fresh basil leaves in a stone mortar. it is a book about the richness of experience, and how to make a feast out of poverty. a book about slow food and slow life.

i want a life in which i need to know these things. and i want it now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

sap moon giveaway

woke up with a start last night and the irrepressible and immediate urge to 'make something'. grumbingly and grudgingly got out of bed. observed a) the full moon, b) that it was 3:15 am. grumbled and grudged some more. stumbled downstairs through the silent house (even the cats were sleeping) to make myself a cup of tea. went to the studio. turned on the lights. got the supplies ready. sat down. i have learned not to argue with the full moon.

by 6:30 am when my son called me back to bed for his early morning serving of a 'little something or other' (if you saw toini in the early morning, you'd think of pooh too), it was ready. it's a postman-style tote sling (yes, i know you can see that...), made from a very soft thrifted felted light brown sweater and adorned with some lace i got off an old shirt of mine. it is rather low-slung which makes it perfect for cycling and for combining with a baby-sling. the strap is cut in a curve which makes for a comfy fitting. it's much cuter than in the photograph...

... and it's packed with whooping full moon energy!

(if you want it, just leave a comment/send me an e-mail, and if there are more takers, i'll devise some kind of eeny-meeny-miny-moe system)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

time and again

marc told me the other day that one hundred years ago it took a whole day to travel the distance between leiden and den haag. by barge and horse. we've been thinking about giving up our car (as in not replacing ours once it breathes its last breath). partially, it's the costs of course, but the more i think about it, the happier i am with the idea.

without a car, we would end up walking and cycling more (and taking more trains). without a car, we would have more fresh air and exercise. without a car, we could stop and look and smell, and listen to all that we come accross. without a car, my children could have my real attention and presence while going places. without a car, we would have memories of travelling (all car drives now seem to end up on one greyish indistinct pile of memory sand). without a car, we would often be late, sometimes be early, but never stress out about either (hmmm, a bit of wishful thinking there?). without a car, the journey would actually become part of the journey again.

and time would slow down.

plus, as sam pointed out, i would think twice before going places, and so i would end up only going where i really want to go. and staying longer once i get there. and time would slow down.

and time would slow down.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

8 march

"We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed."
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
to the women in my life, those marvelous four-footed creatures, to the ones who have seemingly been there forever, and the ones who have recently trotted in, thank you for the inspiration, the support, the scent, the trails, the nourishment, the strength, the wisdom, the love and the laughter.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


she insisted
she really wanted to
not because i...
.. or because it was there...
but because she wanted to
she insisted

now, being an apple
from this particular tree
in the morning
in the evening
many times
in between
she practices
before breakfast
after breakfast
in her pajamas
always in her pajamas
it slides off my lap,
if i wear my princess dress

and so we play duets
in our pajamas
before breakfast
because what else
would we do?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


i wanted to write a completely different 'wednesday' post, but couldn't resist the high cuteness quota of the above photograph. therefore.

we are truly blessed with our local thrift stores. there are four of them within easy walking distance of our house, and one in particular, the idealistic emmaus, is a true treasure trove. they are only open on saturdays and wednesdays, from 1 to 4, so that often we end up staring at an item in the window for days on end before we can purchase it, and then we have to be lucky that nobody gets there earlier (there are long cues in front of the store every wednesday and saturday, as you can imagine). and it is so very good, this having to stare for a long time, and think about whether we really need whatever it is, and whether we really want it. and trusting that if it is meant to be ours, it will wait for us. as it does.

for instance, today. for a few pennies, we became the proud owners of a (much stared at) brand-new children's microscope with accessories; a shoebox containing somebody's entire collection of stones and minerals, with labels and information cards (as a child, i wanted to be a geologist, and had quite a collection, lost in a move, mourned ever since) (happily, at least one member of this family seems to share the interest, isabelle kept excusing herself from whatever we were doing this evening to 'go and look at the precious stones'); three educational CD-roms focusing on reading/writing and maths for 5-7 year olds; one educational CD-rom on travelling around the world; a polaroid SX-70 camera; a hand-puppet, and...

... a lambswool stripey hat.
(honesty bids me confess in passing that the sugarless project died an unfortunate and somewhat unexpected death in the throes of a sudden and vicious bout of pms that had me woolfing down the better (if not best) part of a large milka choco-biscuit bar, followed closely by all of the very very dark chocolate i had saved for special emergencies, followed by... well, i will spare you the gory details. in the spirit of point (6) of the programme, i am thinking of resuscitating the sugarless project in the morning)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

the day after...

... the mayonnaise, we had to do something with the egg whites. Pauline's recipe for these involves two huge egg whites, beaten stiff with a pinch of salt, and then sweetener (in our case the ubiquitous maple syrup) and 150 g of shredded coconut. preheat oven to 160 degrees and bake for twenty minutes. they were gone in a jiffy. in fact, their appearance in our house was so short that they have something of the quality of a dream and antoine still insists on checking the cookie tin every morning to see whether they might have, by magic, reappeared.

Monday, March 02, 2009

on time

time is truly giving me a run for my money. i read somewhere that einstein didn't believe in it. apparently, he thought there was no such thing. hhmm (seriously raises the question of whether it's better for a theory if the theorist believes in the principles the theory is based on or really really not). then there is all those languages in which 'soon' and 'a short while ago' is the same word. more hhmm. plus the idea that time, should it exist, is nowhere like the sad linear concept us poor westerlings have come up with but a wonderful cyclical turning wheel. hhmm hhmm. and then of course the buddhist notion that since both future and past are but a figment of our imagination, there is no other time than this very second (i guess that's where buddhism and einstein meet?). and what was it again that i learned at school about time and the hopi indians?

so where does that leave little me? how can i spend year in year out in constant shortage of something that doesn't exist? and how can i ever be wasting it? or saving it? and what about all those eighteenth century people, the jane austen character types, whose time was (they say) so much slower than ours? how did they get to have slower time? and can i have some too please (am reading a book called Slow in the hope of finding out how, but have so far fallen asleep three times in the course of the introduction) (nothing to do with the quality of the book, am just very tired)? and why does it seem like such a good idea to split time up, but then the more i categorize it (time with the children, household time, social time, work time, my time), the less of it there seems to be (and is that how it works with birthday cakes too?)?
hhmm. hope you have something illuminating for me. in the meantime, i'll keep reading and thinking, and keep you posted.